Palm Beach County convention center turns profit thanks to hotel


The once-fledgling Palm Beach County Convention Center has turned an annual profit for the first time in its 14-year history, a shift that tourism officials say is a result of the West Palm Beach Hilton opening next door.

The county-owned convention center, which has operated at a loss since it opened in 2003, reported net profit of $118,404 for the fiscal year that ended in September, officials said Thursday. The 12-month period marked the first full year that the 400-room Hilton was open next to the convention center.

“The transformation has been crystal clear,” said Dave Anderson, regional vice president of Spectra Venue Management, the company hired by the county to manage the convention center. “There is no doubt that (the hotel) was a good investment.”

Tourism leaders spent more than a decade pushing for a hotel to complement the convention center on Okeechobee Boulevard in downtown West Palm Beach, arguing that without adjacent lodging the building never would be profitable.

Palm Beach County commissioners chose Related Cos. as the developer in 2010. Two years later, the commission agreed to cover $27 million of the estimated $110 million hotel construction cost. Construction beganin 2014.

In the years before the hotel opened in January 2016, about 85 percent of the convention center’s business consisted of short-term events, many of which were booked just a few months out and attracted attendees who drove to the building for a single day. Those attendees didn’t typically stay at area hotels, shop at local stores, visit tourist attractions or eat at restaurants.

In the 19 months since the hotel opened, Anderson said the convention center has seen a surge in the number of longer-term bookings, including trade associations, conventions and other meetings. Those events are booked years in advance and typically draw visitors from throughout the world to Palm Beach County for multiple-day trips.

About 57 percent of the convention center business now consists of longer-term events, Anderson told members of the county’s Tourist Development Council on Thursday. The center’s sales team is now booking meetings and conventions set to be held in 2021 and 2022, officials said.

Anderson said he hopes the convention center’s growth will also be a boon for businesses across the county. Many convention and meeting planners look for nearby venues to host pre- and post-events, he added.

“We want to push the impact of these events into the community,” Anderson told the tourism board.

Tourism leaders are also working with restaurants in downtown West Palm Beach to provide deals and other packages for large groups.

With the addition of a new 2,500-car parking garage, the convention center can now use its surface parking lot to hold outdoor events and shows, Anderson said.

Before the Hilton’s opening, the convention center was limited to competing for events that would generate a maximum of about 450 nightly hotel bookings, officials have said.

But when Hilton’s 400 rooms are combined with those at other nearby hotels, including the West Palm Beach Marriott, the Hyatt Place and the Residence Inn in downtown West Palm Beach, the convention center’s sales team can vie for much larger events.

This past month, construction crews broke ground on a 150-room Canopy by Hilton set to rise along Dixie Highway, just a few blocks from the convention center. Tourism leaders say the hotel has already agreed to set aside a block of rooms for a large group planning to travel here in 2019.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in

Brightline asks to cancel meeting on $1.2 billion bond request
Brightline asks to cancel meeting on $1.2 billion bond request

All Aboard Florida’s Brightline has asked a state financing group to cancel an emergency meeting set for Monday to discuss the private rail venture’s request to sell $1.15 billion in tax-exempt bonds to pay for the second phase of its project connecting West Palm Beach to Orlando. The Florida Development Finance Corp., a special financing...
Young people may be allowed to live in over-55 community

Question: We live in an over-55 condominium community. There is a woman in her 30s who inherited her condo unit from her father. The problem is that this woman is constantly causing disturbances with late-night parties and friends going in and out of her unit all hours of the day and night. The other owners in the building have filed numerous noise...
Brightline’s Orlando extension wins federal approval
Brightline’s Orlando extension wins federal approval

All Aboard Florida’s Brightline has won approval from federal transportation officials to extend its passenger rail service north to Orlando, clearing the way for the private rail venture to begin construction on its second phase connecting West Palm Beach and central Florida. Brightline said it plans to begin construction on the northern extension...
11 rookie mistakes to avoid during the first year of your new job
11 rookie mistakes to avoid during the first year of your new job

Whether you're in your first job straight out of college or are a seasoned professional starting with a different company, your first year can set the tone for success or failure.    Early mistakes can be difficult to overcome and can torpedo your career in the longer term. Each office has its own way of doing things, and it's part of your...
SolarTech Universal to expand workforce in Riviera Beach
SolarTech Universal to expand workforce in Riviera Beach

SolarTech Universal, Florida’s only solar photovoltaic panel manufacturer, is growing and plans to hire up to 100 additional employees in 2018, including those needed to staff a new facility in Puerto Rico. The company founded in 2012 began production in 2015 at an 85,000-square-foot facility in Riviera Beach. Plant manager Paul Roraff said the...
More Stories